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UGA research shows rats are capable of reflecting on mental processes

Athens, Ga. -- Lets say a college student enters a classroom to take a test. She probably already has an idea how she will doknowledge available before she actually takes out a pencil. But do animals possess the same ability to think about what they know or dont know?

A new study by researchers from the University of Georgia, just published in the journal Current Biology, shows that laboratory rats do. Its the first demonstration that any non-primate knows when it doesnt know something, and it could open the way to more in-depth studies about how animalsand humansthink.

"This kind of research may change how we think about cognition and memory in animals," said Jonathon Crystal, an associate professor of psychology in UGAs Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Crystals co-author on the paper is Allison Foote, a graduate student in the department of psychology at UGA.

Researchers have believed for some time that people and non-human primates are capable of "metacognition"reasoning or thinking about ones own thinking. There have been studies on birds about this kind of thinking process, but results thus far have been inconclusive. The new study is the first that shows a non-primate species has metacognitiona proposal that may well be controversial.

The study involved what is called a "duration-discrimination" testoffering rats rewards for classifying a signal as either short or long. As in most such tests, the "right" answer led to a large food reward, while a "wrong" answer led to no reward at all. The twist, however, is that before taking the duration test, the rats were given the chance to decline the test completely. If they made that choice, they got a small reward anyway.

"If rats have knowledge about whether they know or dont know the answer to the test, we would expect them to decline most frequently on difficult tests," said Crystal. "They would also show the lowest accuracy on difficult tests th
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Contact: Kim Carlyle
kcarlyle@uga.edu
706-583-0913
University of Georgia
8-Mar-2007


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